The Movie Grace is Dark and Gruesome

Grace movie poster

Anchor Bay

Like certain prescription drugs and amusement park rides, the movie "Grace" (2009) should come with a warning label for expectant mothers. It's a dark, gruesome plot about one woman's "difficult pregnancy" is certain to cause some nightmares, pushing the boundaries of taste in the process. What began as an acclaimed 6-minute short (2006) was made into a feature film, expanding upon the initial concept of a woman delivering a baby thought to be dead but is not to delve into her personal life and the extent to which she's willing to go to protect her child.

The Plot

Madeline (Jordan Ladd) and Michael (Stephen Park) are a happily married couple expecting their first child. A health-conscious vegan, Madeline decides to have her baby delivered naturally by a midwife instead of using the doctor recommended by Michael's overbearing mother, Vivian (Gabrielle Rose). Madeline chooses a woman she trusts to handle the delivery: her former college professor Patricia (Samantha Ferris), who runs a nearby clinic.

A car accident, however, throws things for a loop. Michael dies, as does the unborn child. As Patricia cares for Madeline in the clinic, they decide that she will carry the baby to term rather than inducing labor. Madeline returns home in a daze and sleepwalks through the remaining two weeks of her pregnancy, even venturing out to shop for baby items in a disillusioned stupor.

When she finally goes into labor, everyone involved—except perhaps Madeline—is surprised when the dead baby starts to nurse. "Her name is Grace," Madeline calmly tells Patricia. Unlike in the short film upon which it's based, Grace appears healthy and normal, and tests show nothing wrong.

However, after Madeline brings the baby home, Grace begins to display troubling symptoms. Her hair starts falling out; her body temperature is dangerously low, she develops an odor and flies become attracted to her. Most disturbing, she refuses to drink milk. When Grace bites too hard while nursing and ends up drawing blood, Madeline is horrified to find out that milk isn't the baby's drink of choice.

The End Result

The concept of a bloodthirsty "zombie baby" conjures up images of campy scenes from movies like "It's Alive" and "Dead Alive"—and being a protege of Eli Roth, you'd expect as much from director Paul Solet—but he delivers a surprisingly straight-faced exploration of the mother-child connection. The pace is deliberate, the tone is dark and neo-Gothic, and with the grisly anatomical element, "Grace" feels like Cronenberg's "The Brood" crossed with "Rosemary's Baby."

Not that it's as good as either of those films. Despite the intriguing central concept, the movie doesn't play all that originally. It's predictable how Madeline will react to Grace's thirst and that things will turn into a bit of a "Hellraiser" scenario, with a mother bringing lambs to the slaughter for the sake of an incapacitated loved one. All that remains to be determined is how the matter will end, and "Grace" goes the curious route of undermining its effort to create a refined, thoughtful horror movie by tacking on a low-brow "shock" ending.

The script, written by Solet and Roth, does manage to paint some provocative dynamics between Madeline and the primary women in her life, Patricia, and Vivian. Both roles are played sharply by veteran actresses Ferris and Rose, with Patricia the caring but awkwardly affectionate guardian and Vivian the cold manipulator quietly grieving for her lost son. By comparison, the character of Madeline is flat and uninteresting, single-minded and predictable; unfortunately, she dominates the movie.

As a director, Solet makes some odd choices. Perhaps trying to create a dreamlike air, he uses a filter to fuzz out the edges of the picture for long stretches. At other times, his use of light is questionable; one scene, in particular, is shot directly into the glaring sun shining through a window. As you might expect from a first-time director (feature-wise), it feels like he's trying too hard, and his efforts become intrusive. His style should be as subtle as his film.

Despite its subtlety—the gore and exploitive elements being relatively low-key—"Grace" is a "furrowed brow" movie, with content designed to disturb and provoke a response. Its primary modus operandi for generating cringes is, of course, the dead (or undead) baby, whose presence smears a general sense of discomfort across the film, conjuring up images of abortion and miscarriage. It's the type of movie that's more admirable than enjoyable, but since little other, than the acting is done particularly well, it can't be called especially admirable.

The Skinny

  • Acting: B (Ladd is OK, but Rose and Ferris are the standouts.)
  • Direction: C- (Some odd choices prove distracting and overreaching.)
  • Script: C (It has an intriguing concept with relationships that have some dramatic resonance but doesn't do enough with the potential and ends on a sour note.)
  • Gore/Effects: C (The computer-generated imagery and baby effects reflect the low budget.)
  • Overall: C (It was bleak and underachieving despite its unnerving potential.)